“To Catch A Rat” Review

Flashback to 1960. In Germany, secrets are being smuggled across the Iron Curtain. And in Britain, a half-hour show is goes out on Saturday nights about a police surgeon… Okay, that’s not mentioned on screen, but since the traitor is being intercepted by a character played by Ian Hendry, star of Police Surgeon, I think it’s worth mentioning – especially in light of the fact that the following year, a new vehicle was created for him, called The Avengers

Yes, the most notable thing about this one is that it’s the return of the show’s first star but in a guest role. It’s The Avengers‘ Meglos ((Doctor Who story in which Jacqueline Hill, one of original stars, played a guest part)) if you like, though actually it’s not at all a bad episode in its own right.

The sense of looking back on the 60s is evoked through some dusty archives, the music is very Ipcress File, and Gambit prompts Steed to reveal an old code name

“We used a lot of funny names in those days. Didn’t you?”

“They weren’t funny. I was the new doberman”

Purdey and Gambit spend a lot of time driving round in circles through the fine scenery in their Range Rover trying to locate Hendry’s character, Irwin Gunner. Purdey tries to remember what she was doing 17 year ago (her parents took her boating) and asks Gambit what he was doing.

“Me? I was discovering sex?”

“What a waste of time. You might have been learning to drive.”

We also discover Purdey can sew… “I can wash, sew, iron, cook a mean omelette. And break your back in 3 places if you step out of line.” Hopefully she’s better at omelettes than Steed

Steed gets access directly to the minister. We also meet Cromwell, ‘the head of D16’ though it’s far from clear he’s Mother’s replacement and Steed’s direct superior (perhaps D16 is the new MI12).

Gunner appears to be Hendry’s current age (i.e. his age in 76) during the flashback to 1960 (when in fact Hendry was as youthful as we can see on the surviving tapes) which means he has to age up an additional 16 years – mostly achieved through unconvincingly whitening his hair. For some reason, he gets a German accent (it surely can’t be to differentiate him from Dr Keel, at this point, can it?) Gunner is a trapeze artist, which inevitably made me think of the Steed-less Avengers story The Girl on the Trapeze but that only springs to mind because it’s one of the two surviving episodes featuring Hendry. Hard to imagine that was a consideration at the time…

But for me, it’s seeing Hendry and Macnee together that I want, and it keeps me on my seat for the whole episode. They don’t meet until Gunner is breathing his last. But it’s worth it.

“I know I’m 17 years late. But welcome back, Gunner”

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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